Scott Borthwick has surprised a lot of people – not least himself – in 2013, the year he went from a luxury to a Durham necessity.
Thanks to his fourth First-Class century, each bigger than the last, the Riversiders could still pull off the biggest surprise of the lot by winning the County Championship.
Previously Borthwick owed his regular place more to the management’s faith and what he could do with the ball in the fourth innings of a game.
But since moving up the order in April, Borthwick has justified his place on batting alone for Durham and maybe this winter England Lions.
There are still bowling improvements needed to become the leg-spinning all-rounder club and country dream of, but he has bought time to make them.
“I’ve surprised myself a bit, especially in one-dayers and Twenty20s, with how quickly I can score,” he reflected after yesterday’s 135.
“It’s thanks to Colly (Paul Collingwood), Benks (Dale Benkenstein), Geoff (Cook) or Judge (Jon Lewis) – whoever made the choice to put me up the order. It’s been a great opportunity for me and hopefully I can keep going.”
Having been hidden away at eight, Borthwick (pictured right) has been thrust into the No.3 spot and thrived. Since his promotion, he averages 50. The responsibility to score big runs rather than flashy ones suits him well.
He more or less opened yesterday against a bowler on top form.
Chris Tremlett might have expected to be wearing the Three Lions at his home ground yesterday, but England’s decision to overlook him was Surrey’s gain. He was not just the only visiting bowler to take a wicket – for most of the game he was the only one to look capable.
The giant fast bowler removed left-handers Mark Stoneman and Keaton Jennings by slanting the fifth ball of each morning spell across them. But Borthwick guided down the edges and when the other bowlers pushed the ball too far outside off-stump, cut them to the boundary.
When he has to force the pace in one-day cricket, Borthwick can look a little out of his depth first wicket down, but his discipline is made for the four-day game.
Stoneman started with boundaries off the first and third balls of the day, only to play on in the next over. Borthwick waited 15 deliveries for the right ball and knocked it off his legs. Like Jennings and Will Smith, his partners in stands worth 68 and 183 respectively, he played that way throughout, hitting 21 boundaries.
Eventually Jennings’ concentration slipped, fending outside off stump to Zander de Bruyn at second slip with lunch approaching.
Smith looked good in his understated way, only to miss out with a century begging.
He survived a snorter on 34 not out, Tremlett rearing the ball up from a length without convincing umpire Mark Benson he had found the edge.
The new ball was Smith’s undoing, first lured into nibbling at a Dernbach outswinger, then lbw trying to drive Tremlett’s first delivery with the new conker.
Michael Richardson – promoted to five – followed feebly, helping a ball down legside.
Eventually Borthwick tired, put down at first slip on 131, cut in half by a beauty from Tremlett on 135.
But by the time he left the crease, playing around a full ball for Tremlett’s first Surrey Championship five-fer, Durham had a first-innings 300 for the first time at home this season and only the third overall.
It all made Gareth Batty’s decision to bat first look a bit odd.
The Surrey captain was presumably lured in by slightly overcast conditions but whether they have won the toss or not, Durham have always batted first at Chester-le-Street this season, then bowled the opposition out for less.
Durham need to win as badly as Surrey for very different reasons. The Brown Caps are staring relegation in the face, the Riversiders have an eye on the title. If Middlesex lose a tight game with Derbyshire both become more likely.
From 309-5 Durham should find it very difficult to lose. And it normally takes plenty of rain for games here to finish in a draw.